Age for purchasing tobacco in Northampton raised to 21


The Northampton Board of Health unanimously voted at City Hall last Thursday to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco within the city from 18 to 21.

At a meeting on Sept. 21, according to MassLive, the board heard public comment before voting to increase the minimum legal purchasing age for nicotine and tobacco products to 21, decrease the total number of tobacco sales permits and limit the sale of flavored tobacco products to tobacconists stores with the primary purpose of selling tobacco products and related items.

The rule change is intended to prevent youth from accessing tobacco and nicotine products. 

"When you walk into a store, this is what children see," Public Health Director Merridith O'Leary told WWLP. "Their eyes are drawn to it because it's very colorful. A lot of the nicotine delivery products that they sell look like candy with flavors like tutti-frutti."

Rates of tobacco use in both adult and youth populations have steadily declined in recent years, while marijuana use is on the rise. In a 2015 University of Michigan study of substance use in the previous year, marijuana use surpassed cigarette smoking among college students for the first time, with 5.9 percent of students saying that they smoked marijuana daily, compared to 5 percent who smoked cigarettes daily. This is a significant reversal from just 17 years earlier in 1999, when 19 percent of college students smoked cigarettes daily. 

As cigarette use decreases, the tobacco industry has branched out and developed numerous different products for public consumption. According to the New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration'sso-called "Deeming Rule," which extended the agency's jurisdiction to include products like e-cigarettes, cigars and pipe and hookah tobacco, came into effect in August. 

Since then, according to the Times, e-cigarette and cigar companies have mounted a campaign on Capitol Hill, employing 75 lobbyists, including former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), to advocate legislation to repeal this rule. The e-cigarette industry argues that they provide a public health service by providing cigarette users with an alternative to smoking. "The FDA has blatantly ignored evidence that our products improve people's lives," said Christian Berkey, the chief executive of a company that manufactures e-juice.

The FDA defended the rule to the Times, saying that while there may be some potential decrease in harm by switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, they still have an obligation to investigate claims of burns from exploding e-cigarette batteries, whether chemicals in e-juice smoked through e-cigarette devices are potentially harmful or even carcinogenic and whether candy-like flavoring for e-juice contributes to the rise in e-cigarette use among youth.

According to a study supported by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control, youth e-cigarette use has increased from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015. The same study also showed that high school boys used cigars at approximately the same rates as cigarettes. 

Some public health officials, however, believe that e-cigarette companies are intentionally targeting youth with their advertising. "The e-cigarette advertising we're seeing is like the old-time Wild West," CDC Director Tom Frieden told Reuters. "No rules, no regulations and heavy spending advertising the products."

™The use of e-cigarettes in kids appears increasingly likely to result in an increased risk of using regular cigarettes,∫ Frieden told Reuters. "They are not harmless."

Flavored tobacco products are subject to strict regulation under the new Northampton rules. According to a study that was co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the FDA, 80 percent of youth tobacco users in 2013 and 2014 stated that they had used a flavored tobacco product within the previous 30 days. 

Northampton joins Amherst and South Hadley in raising the legal purchasing age for tobacco to 21. The new regulations will go into effect in January 2017.